By Romi Carrell Wittman –
2018 Father of the Year Honoree
For what might have been the first time in his life, Tony Penn was speechless.
As president and CEO of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Penn is rarely caught tongue-tied. At any given moment, he has an elevator speech about United Way’s achievements ready to go. But this day was a bit different.
Penn was attending a run-of-the-mill United Way board meeting in late January when told he’d been named one of the 2018 Fathers of the Year by the Father’s Day Council Tucson. Penn was so surprised and overwhelmed by the announcement that he found he was at a complete loss for words.
“I was completely speechless. My board vice chair said it was one of the few times that’s ever happened,” Penn laughed.
Eventually he regained his composure and realized that the entire board, as well as several of Penn’s staff members, were in on the surprise. Penn said, “It was a wonderful, endearing moment.”
Penn and his wife, Linda, have called Tucson home since 2010, when he took the helm of United Way, which works with some 80-plus charitable organizations to assist more than 100,000 people in the areas of education, fiscal responsibility and healthcare.
Prior to taking the job in Tucson, Penn served for eight years as a senior executive for the YMCA in San Antonio. He also worked as a field engineer and later as a regional manager at Teradyne, a high-tech designer and manufacturer of automatic test equipment. He’s an Air Force veteran.
Though San Antonio, the city where Penn’s two sons and 10 grandchildren live, isn’t terribly far away, it’s not near enough. Penn said he wishes his family was geographically closer. “Hopefully that will change in the future,” he said, while acknowledging that he’s fortunate because “unlike some of my friends, I don’t have to chase my grandkids around the country.
Penn’s family is so close-knit that they take a couple of vacations together each year. Past trips have included a summer stay in Galveston, Texas, where they enjoyed a rented beach house for a month. Future plans include a Walt Disney World Resort excursion. “There will be 16 Penns going, with kids ranging in age from 6 to 19,” he said.
Both from large families, Penn and his wife started their own family when they were young, an experience for which he is grateful. “It gave me an opportunity as a young man to have a lot of fun with my kids. And we matured as a family together,” he said.
It’s no secret that parenthood isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright hard, Penn said. Still, in his view, it’s one of the best experiences a man can have. “It’s the greatest privilege and toughest responsibility that any man could ask for, but at the same time it’s the most rewarding,” he said.
Penn is proud of the types of fathers his two sons have become, and he really loves being a grandfather because it’s given him the chance to experience fatherhood a second time. “I get to enjoy my grandkids and spoil them,” he said. “The best part is the parents let us.”
Penn is passionate about not only his family, but also his work and the opportunity it gives him to help other men be successful dads. “We want to create a better chance for fathers who are socioeconomically challenged as well as those who need a second chance,” Penn said. “We’re giving them the opportunity and tools to raise their kids and families successfully.”